In 1960, acclaimed American author John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men) embarked on a three-month road trip around the United States with his wife’s gentleman poodle, Charley, in tow. Steinbeck’s aim was to rediscover the country he had last roamed as a young man. Ultimately, the journey would be as much about self-discovery. The resulting book, Travels with Charley, was a bestseller and is now counted among the classic American road novels.
In 2003, writer Mike Lauterborn set off by van to follow Steinbeck’s path, to both learn about the author and see how America and Americans had changed in the intervening forty-plus years. Along the way, he hoped to find some of the people and places Steinbeck had encountered while taking in new sights and experiences. Travels with Charley aided Lauterborn during the planning stages of his own trip and prepared him for hardships Steinbeck had also faced, including vehicle troubles, adverse weather, solitude, and health woes. The author’s words would inspire, console, and haunt the young writer.
Ultimately, the trail would lead Lauterborn to some of America’s most enduring landmarks, from broad rivers, rugged coastlines, and azure-blue volcanic lakes to barren deserts, quaint small towns, and sprawling cities. He met people from all walks of life and was struck by their common resilience, work ethic, and patriotism. In the end, however, he was most impressed by the formidable scope of the journey the ailing Steinbeck had undertaken. This book is a tribute to the author’s tireless pursuit of the noble quest.